A key test of ecological knowledge is whether it can be successfully applied to create or restore ecosystems that have been damaged or destroyed. Kate Ballantine’s research uses restored ecosystems as an opportunity to learn about ecosystem processes and development. Specifically, it focuses on the long-term development and ecosystem functions of restored and created wetlands. The overarching goal of her research program is to understand how desirable and undesirable functions of restored wetlands develop and change over time, and how these functions are influenced by restoration methodology.
Over half of the earth’s wetlands have been lost to agriculture and development. With these wetlands were lost the valuable ecosystem functions that wetlands perform, such as water purification, aquifer recharge, climate regulation, long-term carbon storage, flood abatement, recreation, and habitat provision. In response to both historic losses and the continuing threat of wetland destruction, numerous federal, state, and private agencies in the US and abroad have initiated wetland restoration programs.
Ballantine and her students conduct basic and applied research to investigate how these restored wetlands develop and function, and what restoration methodologies may stimulate desirable (or undesirable!) ecosystem functions. Ongoing projects examine the effects of soil amendments (e.g., biochar, topsoil, straw) on vegetative communities, greenhouse gas fluxes, water quality parameters, microbial community structure, and soil cycling of nutrients via soil microbial processes. New projects investigate the mechanisms that underlie water quality and climate change functions and the influence of environmental variability on these functions. Ecosystem restoration is an interdisciplinary field, and Ballantine values her collaborations with students and professionals from a wide variety of expertise to work on restoration projects that inform both ecosystem science and restoration practice.
Ballantine was recently awarded funding to start a restoration ecology program, and is excited see Mount Holyoke College become a center for restoration research and education. She teaches courses on environmental science, restoration ecology, and wetlands ecology and management. In her courses, students bridge the gap from being consumers of information to producers of information by taking on original real world projects with real world consequences. Students also examine where things such as water, food, and information come from before we encounter them, and where they go to after we use them. Ballantine’s instruction revolves around the art of question asking. In her classes, students not only learn to address questions about what they see in nature, but also what they observe in their homes, communities, and daily lives.